The largest nerdfest of audio/video/instructional technology is a trade show called InfoComm.
This year’s show attracted 30,000 people, and Higher Ed institutions were well represented again; your campus may have sent several people to evaluate products and catch up on the latest trends.
Nearly 1,000 exhibitors showcased their products and new developments so, it was clearly three days of sensory overload, but this article will attempt to briefly summarize a few of the major observations about the world of audiovisual systems.
1. The most excitement is around Direct View (DV) LED
DV LEDs continue to offer finer resolution, easier service access, nearly limitless configurations, and more advanced mounting options, all with falling price levels. DV LED is finally priced where it can be considered for high-end rooms in, for example, professional schools in addition to applications we’ve seen for many years in lobbies, sports facilities, and visualization labs.
Several trends are emerging, which show promise for use in higher education:
- “All in ones” are preassembled videowalls packaged for ease of install. Manufacturers are claiming installation by two people in just two hours.
- DV LED walls used as an immersive 3D backdrop for XR stages and video production were impressive and priced for high-end campus use rather than solely for professional broadcast use. Packages include assemblies with virtual cyclorama capabilities—including 90° corners and up-lit stages.
- Several transparent display walls were eye-catching and could be considered for campus retail, museums, alumni/visitor centers, and other specialty uses.
- Manufacturers also featured transportable videowalls packed in flight cases that can be rolled into place and set-up quickly. Applications vary from temporary set-ups in the student union to temporary outdoor classrooms.
2. Projection is not dead
Video projectors are still the lowest cost way to display large images for large groups.
And while the image quality of front projection (largely judged by perceived image contrast) cannot match other technologies in all applications, projectors continue to improve in nearly all aspects: brightness, noise, color dynamic range, warm-up time, lens options, projection mapping and image blending, flexibility in installation methods and locations, and so on.
Several projector manufacturers are reporting healthy sales in the last 18 months (some claiming that 2023 will the best year since 2015); much of the demand is in Higher Education, as many campuses skipped a year of scheduled projector replacements due to the pandemic.
3. Display manufacturers are uncertain about the new 21:9 aspect ratio
(Remember that aspect ratio is the relationship between the width and height of an image.)
Most displays on campus are 16:9 or 16:10, so 21:9 is a much wider display and more similar to a cinema/movie display (1.85:1 for standard anamorphic or 2.35:1 for cinemascope) shape.
The Front Row layout feature in Microsoft Teams is driving people toward 21:9 displays as they seek more immersive collaboration and teaching environments. But, inserting this aspect ratio into your existing spaces may cause issues with space planning.
Plans from manufacturers vary widely. At least one firm is offering only 21:9 displays; another was demonstrating a 21:9 monitor but shared that they are unsure about producing it in mass quantities because it could not fit inside a New York City elevator (in another example of unexpected factors driving markets!).
4. AI invades AV!
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are disrupting many areas of our lives; the AV industry is no exception, particularly with cameras.
Huge performance gains in auto-tracking have been realized via AI. AI-based auto-tracking systems follow a presenter much more reliably at further distances while supporting auto-framing and auto-switching based on gestures and body language (rather than speaking). The result is an enhanced video production achieved through fewer tech operators.
Other new developments involve combining multiple cameras in creative ways and allowing multiple remote viewers to pick different views that suit their individual needs.
Also, AI in cameras is allowing practical people-counting to provide tangible proof of space and system use. This technology has been developing for several years and is near maturity for broad campus-wide deployments.
5. Software helps supply chain issues
The supply chain continues to be a challenge as the AV field is still way behind automotive, industrial, medical, and other industries in terms of quantities and importance to chip manufacturers.
With the worldwide chip shortage still a reality, what are the options for companies that need chips for their hardware products? Switch to software, where you are not at the mercy of chip suppliers.
This will be an attractive option for some projects, but be careful during this early hardware-to-software migration as AV hardware often beats AV software-based solutions in latency and overall performance at this time.
6. Choice overload as (nearly) all displays look great
InfoComm had thousands of displays in a myriad of shapes and sizes and based on differing technologies. Some had transparent surfaces, some were weather resistant, and some were designed to perform in bright ambient light.
And ALL of them looked great, with one notable exception. (Note: I don’t want to embarrass this specific manufacturer, but if you email me, I can give you more information.) So, the challenge now is to understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of the options and pick the optimal display among the mountain of choices.
7. Doing more with less
More and more AV systems are being installed on campus, but AV support staffs are not growing.
Campuses are investing in automation to allow tech support from across the campus via the network and utilizing support contracts from outside firms to supplement the on-campus AV team.
8. Video compression continues to improve
On current broadcast TV, there is often a two-second delay in conversations between a studio host and a reporter at a remote location.
A relatively new standard in video compression claims to ship HDTV between Sydney and LA in 62 milliseconds (.062 seconds), allowing for much more natural two-way interactions between locations.
Watch for this improvement to be widely available in the next 18–30 months or so, as over 30 video manufacturers are now licensing this technology. This will give campuses even more options to transit high-resolution video to remote locations with lower latency, resulting in more natural real-time, remote interview and distance learning interactions.
9. A good idea gone bad
Higher Institutions have developed a number of instructional technologies over the years. Some of the ideas have been extraordinary and developed in an open fashion with no profit incentive and a deep understanding of specific faculty needs.
Occasionally, and unfortunately, a manufacturer grabs the idea and attempts to squeeze it into their product line, adding their own special twist without an understanding of campus needs.
One example this year was based on systems developed on campus several years ago (special shout-out to Northwestern University and San Diego State University) that allows writing on a piece of glass lit in a specific way and a video processed to “flip” the image 180 degrees, allowing instructors to teach to a camera using a very familiar markers-on-glass interface. It is a wonderful teaching tool.
Unfortunately, one manufacturer had a similar knock-off product tucked into a small booth that was a swing and a miss in my opinion.
This was an excellent reminder that sometimes we all just need to learn from those who use the systems every day!
After a very rough season, the audiovisual industry is back! The observations above are a small fraction of the new developments in the field so, facility managers may want to check with those on campus who attended the InfoComm trade show. And, plan to attend the show next June in Las Vegas—because who does not want to be in the desert in the summer?
John Cook is senior vice president, technology and acoustics, at NV5 in Pittsburgh, PA. He can be reached at [email protected].